A defiant pub owner is offering regulars meals for a penny to get around strict Tier 3 restrictions after being told he couldn’t give it away for free.
Andy MacDonald, 36, is the landlord of the Ships and Giggles pub in Preston, which was placed under the strictest COVID-19 rules last Friday.
Lancashire was the second area of the country to enter Tier 3 last week, after the Liverpool City Region.
The rules said pubs and bars could only stay open if they offered ‘substantial meals’, which has been enforced by Preston City Council.
MacDonald offered customers free fish fingers and chips from Saturday but was then told by council chiefs he was flouting the rules because he was giving the food away.
On Thursday the determined landlord announced he would no charge customers for their food, but it would only cost them a penny.
He said the advice and guidance given has been unacceptable and confusing as “substantial” could mean anything.
He added the government had “lost the plot” and may cost him and his staff their livelihoods.
He said: “When we put the free meals on, so many people told us how grateful they were because people are struggling during this pandemic.
“So many have expressed how thankful they were and we were happy to do it as we understand, we are trying to survive too.
“But when we were told that we couldn’t do that it was a breaking point for me.
“I’m providing a free meal for people who don’t have much - and we’ve been told we can’t do that. It’s an absolute disgrace.
He said he felt “disgusted” and “disheartened” when he was told by the council to stop giving out free food.
Watch: Coronavirus: Some Tier 3 regions have stricter lockdown rules than others - here's why
The new meals would have a “pay what you want” policy, where struggling people could pay only a penny but anyone who was in a good position could pay more.
The pub owner said he is doing “everything in his power” to save his business.
He said the government had gone “absolutely mad” by letting the pubs reopen during the summer, only for cases to rise again and put them in the situation they are now in.
MacDonald added: “We have done so much to ensure we can operate during COVID, and now we’re told we need to shut again. It’s ridiculous.
“We are fighting to stay alive, we are fighting for our customers, and for our staff who all deserve better.”
He claims the muddled guidance was “miraculously” amended on the day he was informed to say the meal must be purchased by the customer.
He said: "What we are doing at Ships and Giggles is trying to shine some light during these mentally and financially dark times.
"I, like many others, have suffered extremely mentally, but this week I’ve been happy with a massive sense of achievement and satisfaction
"I’m not trying to offend anyone and I’m not doing anything for the wrong reasons.”
Preston City Council's website states that meals must be purchased by the customer at the premises and when purchasing the meal the customer may also purchase alcohol.
In a post on social media, a council spokesperson said: "As you may be aware from the media, we actively defended businesses across Preston on the basis of the efforts taken and adaptations made to ensure COVID safety.
"However there are firm restrictions that have been put into place, relating to pubs, bars and restaurants, such as: 'alcohol can only be served as part of a main meal', 'the meal must be purchased by the customer'.
"We cannot guarantee that further restriction will not be implemented if the rate does not go down.
"While our preference will always be to work with you to meet the necessary standards, there is increased pressure and expectation that the council takes enforcement action wherever businesses are not meeting COVID requirements."
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